To make sure your muscles retain their ability to relax and stretch when you want them to (no matter your age), they need to do so regularly. That means you need to purposely do movements that stretch your muscles.
If you’re looking to increase your flexibility, Dr. Belkin recommends stretching three to five days a week for five minutes. Here are the types of stretches you can do to maintain or improve flexibility:
One of the most common types of stretching is static stretching, in which you move to a joint’s end range of motion and then hold that position for 15, 30, 60 seconds, or longer, Walrod explains.
For example, to stretch your hamstrings, you can touch your toes, either while standing or seated on the floor with your legs outstretched. To stretch your chest muscles, you can hold both sides of a doorframe and then step forward. To stretch your glutes, you can hug your knee into your chest.
In general, static stretching has been shown to increase hamstring flexibility in young healthy adults.
But it’s important to note that static stretching is not recommended before exercise (when muscles aren’t warmed up). Consistent research shows that, as a general rule, people should not perform static stretches, especially when held for periods longer than 60 seconds, before their workouts, Walrod says.
Static stretches can actually make the muscles too flexible without allowing them to properly stabilize your body’s joints, he explains.
What’s more, when static stretches — held longer than 60 seconds — are done before exercise, the warmup has been found to decrease strength and performance, according to research published in 2019.
It’s best to static stretch after exercise as a way to help cool down or throughout the day as a way to break up long periods of stretching and loosen tight muscles, Walrod says.
Dynamic stretches are exercises that gently move joints through their full range of motion, increasing blood flow to the body’s muscles and connective tissues. For this reason, they are ideal to perform before workouts.
Research published in 2018 suggested that dynamic stretching before a workout can improve performance when it comes to force, power, sprinting, and jumping.
Examples include leg swings, walking lunges, hip circles, and arm circles.
Myofascial Release (‘Foam Rolling’)
Myofascial release (such as foam rolling or massage) involves applying pressure to the muscles’ connective tissues to help them relax, Walrod says.
To improve flexibility, foam rolling may be most beneficial when performed immediately prior to dynamic stretching.
For example, in one study published in 2015, when athletes foam rolled, their flexibility didn’t increase. But when they foam rolled and then performed static stretches, their flexibility improved significantly more than it did through static stretching alone.
Other research, including a study published in 2015, shows that foam rolling after a workout can help reduce muscle soreness later, as well as speed up muscle recovery.
It’s worth noting that both of these examples are small studies.
However, a meta-analysis published in 2019 concluded that foam rolling has minor effects on performance and recovery in most cases and may indeed be most helpful for more people as part of a pre-exercise routine.